“Holding on to anger is like drinking poison, and expecting the other person to die.”
While it is highly unlikely Siddhartha Gautama actually said this, the sentiment and wisdom is timeless and relevant to modern day life.
The 5th century Buddhist scholar, Buddhaghosa taught that holding onto anger was akin to picking up cow dung and throwing it at one’s malefactor. Nothing really gets accomplished, except an escalation of bad energy, and a hand that smells like shit.
Whether it be Buddhist teachings, Ayurvedic teachings, or the latest pop psychology notion to come down the Facebook disinformation highway—resentment is bad for you. This is not news to many of us.
How many times have we lay awake at night tossing and turning, while reliving a grievance foisted upon us earlier in the day by a boss, colleague, or that guy that flipped us the bird on the freeway?
Not only has a restorative sleep been interrupted, but the body has been flooded with adrenalin, cortisol, and many of the other toxic stress chemicals and hormones. We go about our business the next day exhausted, irritable, and emotionally hung-over as our bodies try to flush the self-generated toxins out of our systems.
According to the ancient Indian life science Ayurveda, our ability to digest food and life experiences is dependent upon our Agni—or digestive fire. When our Agni is strong we easily digest our food and life experiences, allowing our essential life energy to flow through us.
When our Agni is weak, we are left with what is referred to as Ama—or a toxic residue. Emotional Ama is the most harmful to us. Not only does it hinder the digestion of food, but also the digestion of our emotions and memories.
When left unchecked, Ama leads to disease of the mind, body and spirit.
Whether you subscribe to the traditional eastern healing technologies, or to that of modern medicine, research and experience has shown that anger and resentment cause disease. For example, one large study published in Circulation in 2000 found that among 13,000 middle-aged people, those who rated high in traits such as anger were more prone to coronary artery disease or heart attacks.
In the twelve step based recovery movements, resentment is described as a waste of life, a blocker of the sunlight of the spirit, and perhaps most importantly—fatal.
We have all heard the ubiquitous New Age platitudes regarding dealing with resentments. Usually they involve the words “letting go,” and are plastered across images of open hands, butterflies, or stardust rising up from a broken heart.
It is not that these sentiments aren’t correct—they’re just too easy, and lack instruction on how to turn ones emotional poison into butterflies and stardust.
It is in rooms of the twelve steppers that one finds a most effective, if not difficult, means of releasing long term, deep rooted resentments into the ether, and regaining a life filled with peace and well-being.
So, how do we “let go”?
We start with three things: a pen, paper, and a willingness to revisit the darkest nooks and crannies of our lives up to this point. This is not a journey for the faint of heart, as we will be taking a long hard look at the emotional wreckage of our past grudges. In the coffee soaked meeting rooms of AA it is referred to as a searching and fearless inventory.
Start your letting go process by writing the names of the people, institutions, or principles that you are resentful towards in a column on the left side of your paper. Leave some space between names, as you will be writing some stuff down to the right of your list. If you are unsure of what institutions are, think police department, family court, the United Nations, whatever institution that you are carrying a resentment towards.
To the right of your resentment list, start another column and record the cause of your resentment. It could be a colleague at work who took credit for your idea, or a boss that called you stupid, or . . . you get the picture.
This is the fearless bit of the process, but in reality it can be fear filled. Do it anyway. Remember stardust and butterflies are soon to follow.
To the right of that column start a third column, in it write down what part of your sense of a safe and secure self was affected. Did the resentment affect your self-esteem, social standing, ambition, security, relationships? Keep this bit short and sweet, one word ought to do it.
For example, your boss calling you stupid would affect your self-esteem. Calling you stupid in front of your peers would affect your self-esteem and social standing.
Now make a fourth column on the far right side of your sheet. In this column record your part in the resentment – yes, your part! This part of the process will help transform the toxic energy around your resentment.
As an example, I know a guy who habitually drives too fast. One day on his way to an appointment that was much more important than anybody else’s daily agenda he tailgated the slower car that was occupying his very own personal fast lane. Well as it turned out, the aforementioned slow driving trespasser took great offense to being bullied on the road and slammed on his brakes, and then had the audacity to flip my friend the bird!
Not all your resentments will necessarily have an entry in the fourth column. There are instances such as childhood or sexual abuse, where you need not enter anything. It was wrong—period. And you did not do anything to deserve it.
Your list is finished, no more writing. Now take a look at your list, and one by one, pray for that person, or depending on your beliefs send them healing intentions. Even if your hatred runs deep, do it anyway. Words and intentions have powerful energy around them, and your prayers and intentions will serve to heal you in the process. Which is what this exercise is all about.
Remember that every person on your list came to this world from the perfection of the universe, it wasn’t until they received their social programming from their parents, teachers, peers, and life experiences that their perfection was corrupted.
Your prayer may look something like this: “God/Universe (insert belief here), So and so is a sick and hurt person. I send them love and healing. I pray that I choose healing for myself, and release the anger.”
This process is neither easy nor painless, but like the butterflies in all the happy Facebook memes it is transformative. Like the caterpillar that enters the cocoon, it will disassemble your life as you know it into a puddle of goo, but what emerges afterwards is beautiful and free.
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Editorial Assistant: Melissa Petty/Editor Catherine Monkman
Photo: via Pixoto